Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is characterized by inflammation and pain in the joints, which may be acute in some cases. There are diets that can reduce the inflammation and control the symptoms. These diets, which include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, and fish, will also improve the overall health of a person.
In RA, the immune system attacks the lining of the joints resulting in chronic inflammation, stiffness, and pain. Many studies have shown that components of the Mediterranean diet control inflammation, thus reducing the symptoms of the disease. A study conducted by British researchers looked at the impact of the Mediterranean diet in women with RA. The participants, 130 in total, were divided into two groups. One group was assigned to the Mediterranean diet. The other group received written information about the diet but did not have any changes in their diet.
The group assigned to the Mediterranean diet included more of antioxidant-rich foods, and anti-inflammatory foods. This includes fruits, vegetables, and monounsaturated fats. Women in this group reported less joint pain, morning stiffness, and improved overall health when compared to the other group.
Four major food groups that should be included to reduce the symptoms are:
- Fish – Inflammation in RA is caused by the presence of higher levels of cytokines in the blood. Polyunsaturated fatty acids, like omega-3 fatty acids, suppress the action of cytokines and other inflammatory substances in the body. They also reduce the levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides when included in the diet. High levels of LDL and triglycerides also cause inflammation in the body. Some of the fishes that contain abundant omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, herring, sardines, and anchovies. The American Heart Association recommends the use of these fishes twice a week. Some other foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts, canola oil, and soy beans.
- Colorful produce – Fruits and vegetables contain more of flavanoids and carotenoids, which give them the color. These compounds are also good antioxidants, which are an important component of any anti-inflammatory diet. Some of the fruits and vegetables that are rich in these compounds are blueberries, blackberries, squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, oranges, broccoli, and melons. Include as much colorful produce as possible to have the best diet to fight RA.
- Whole grains – A recent study has shown that people who ate more whole grains, like oatmeal, brown rice, and barley, had low levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation in the body. The levels of CRP increase considerably during a flare up in people with RA. The levels of CRP are measured to track the progress of the disease. It is also an important marker of how well a person is responding to the treatment. Whole-wheat pasta and breads also contain selenium, which is another important antioxidant that fights inflammation. The levels of selenium are found to be very low in the blood of some people with RA. Whole grains also help in managing the weight and prevents excess pressure on the joints.
- Olive oil – Olive oil has very good anti-inflammatory properties. People who have the lowest intake of olive oil are more likely to develop RA, as shown by a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Many studies show that olive oil contains compounds that prevent the production of chemicals that induce inflammation. The functioning of olive oil is similar to that of non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and aspirin which also prevents the production of the inflammation-producing compounds. Extra-virgin olive oil is found to be more effective in controlling the symptoms of RA, as it contains high amounts of health nutrients. In addition to the anti-inflammatory effect, it also adds the advantage of providing a good substitute for saturated and trans fats.